- The apostrophe. The common mistake people make with the apostrophe is that they use it to show that something is plural. The apostrophe should actual be used to show possession in a singular or plural situation.
If the possession is plural, the apostrophe should be placed after the ‘s’ at the end of a word.
Singular possession: The dog’s ball, ripped to shred with love, was the only toy he slept with at night.
Plural possession: The humans’ dog didn’t love them as much as he loved his ball.
2. The colon. The common mistake with the colon is that people use it like a comma. The colon is used to extend something, or to introduce something.
THE RULE: A colon is used to transition into a list, to elaborate on a point, to introduce a quotation, or to introduce a subtitle. BUT, a colon can only be used after a complete sentence (an independent clause), but what comes after doesn’t need to be a complete sentence.
The list: My mom and I always follow the same routine when we go to Cape Cod: we take a long walk on a beach, we try and spot some whales, and then we eat fried pickles.
Elaborate: The pencil is the best thing to write with: you can write, and you can erase.
3. The semicolon. So many people are miffed by this piece of punctuation they don't even know where to start when using it. Just remember, a semicolon can be used as a "super comma" or a "super period."
THE RULE: The semicolon can replace a period to connect two related complete sentences (independent clauses). OR, a semicolon is used as a super comma to separate listed items that need commas within the subjects of the list.
Super period: The cat ran all around the house at a speed formerly unknown to the world; she rolled around in a pound of catnip just minutes before.
Super comma: I have friends from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Vienna, Virginia; and Lincoln, New Hampshire.
4. The hyphen and dash. Just remember, the hyphen is the small one used to connect words, and the dash is the big one used to separate and connect phrases.
THE RULE: The hyphen is used to connect words. You’ll often use a hyphen to combine nouns that create one “thing,” or to combine adjectives that describe one noun.
The dash (technically the em dash) can be used in the place of parentheses, the colon, and the comma. People usually use the dash instead of the other punctuation options to create emphasis or drama.
Hyphen: My mother-in-law, a red-headed woman, instantly started to get a sunburn in the July sun.
Dash: All of my friends — even Margot and Erika — liked their breakfast at Handy’s diner in Burlington, VT. They had all heard the food was only okay — they were very wrong.
[Creative Commons Lisence: Nate Angell, non-commercial, https://www.flickr.com/photos/ixmati/]